The Fourth Amendment stipulates that people have the right to be protected in their persons, homes, papers, and personal effects against unreasonable searches and seizures (White & James, 2004). The Supreme Court has had a different interpretation of this stipulation in different cases. Two cases which observed different observations are the Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), and Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928). In the case of Katz v. United States, the Court of Appeal held that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The petitioner in the case had been convicted by the District Court of California and found guilty of sending gambling information by telephone from Los Angeles to Miami and Boston. This was a breach of the common law. At the trial, the court was allowed, albeit the petitioner’s objection to admit evidence of the petitioner’s telephone communication which the FBI officer eavesdropped through the aid of electronic listening and recording equipment. The officers had fitted the equipment outside the telephone booth in order to nap the petitioner. The Court of Appeals held that the manner in which the recordings were found is not a breach of the Fourth Amendment.

The court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the FBI action constituted to a breach of the Fourth Amendment through the physical penetration into a lawfully protected area before a search and seizure. The court observed that the Fourth Amendment could not be interpreted as a right to privacy. The court further observed that the telephone booth was not a protected area according to the law. It ruled that the Fourth Amendment was supposed to protect people and not places. The court ruled that the telephone booth used by the petitioner was made of glass, implying that he was as visible inside the booth as he was outside.  The court likened the booth to a business office or a taxicab where a person will not expect to get protection of the Fourth Amendment. The court thus ruled that the actions of the FBI officers should not be tested against the stipulation of the Fourth Amendment. The surveillance method that they used did not involve physical penetration of the booth. This was contrary to the decision in the Olmstead v. United States, 277 U. S. 438, in which the lack of such a penetration ended the investigation of a breach of the Fourth Amendment. In the case, the Fourth Amendment was assumed to be restrictive to only searches and seizures of physical property.

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Physical intrusion, searches and seizures

In the Olmstead case, the court observed that surveillance without any physical intrusion and without the seizure of physical property was not constitutional, the decision in Katz’s case was different. The Fourth Amendment covers the seizure of physical property as well as the recording of oral communications eavesdropped without any physical intrusion (Amar, 1994). The Amendment thus safeguards people and areas alone against irrational searches and seizures. In the Katz’s case, the rulings in the Olmstead and Goldman cases were overlooked. The FBI officers’ actions of electronically listening to the petitioner’s communication did not violate the privacy clause in the constitution. Since the electronic equipment used by the FBI officers did not infiltrate the wall of the telephone booth, then their actions do not have any constitutional relevance. The search and seizure in Katz’s case was thus constitutional because the FBI officers acted in a defensible way (Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347). They did not start their electronic surveillance before they had gathered enough evidence to prove that the petitioner was using the booth to communicate gambling information. The surveillance was limited to only the petitioner’s conversations at the telephone booth.

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